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Centenary of Le Mans 24 Heures

You don’t need any great interest in motor sport to be impressed by the legendary 24 Heures du Mans, recognised across the world as motorsport’s toughest event.   Launched in 1923, the race celebrated its centenary in June 2023, although not quite 100 starts, the event being abandoned during World War II.

Motoring pioneers

Le Mans had been at the forefront of motoring since the 1870s, thanks to local businessman Amedée Bollée, the first person to build a steam-driven car. Roads were improved for those early Bollée customers and as a result, the Circuit de la Sarthe was chosen by the Automobile Club de France for their first Grand Prix in 1906.

Few families owned a car in the 1920s, but other manufacturers were entering the industry.  A 24-hour bike race took place in Paris in 1922, but the inaugural 24 Heures du Mans a year later was the first such endurance race for cars, the brainchild of three local enthusiasts. Thanks to a British Bentley taking the lap record, the race forged a strong Anglo-British relationship that still endures today, but other nations soon flocked to the circuit to prove their cars’ performance in this gruelling event.

Races throughout the year

Today, the 13.6 km race takes place on a mix of closed public roads and the Bugatti Circuit, run by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO). The circuit hosts a full programme of car, bike and truck races throughout the year as well as private events for club training and competitions. Discover the full story at the 24 Heures du Mans Museum, www.lemans-musee24h.com then take an independent tour trackside with an audio guide, or a guided tour that includes the Race Control Centre and iconic winners’ podium.

By Gillian Thornton, one of the UK’s leading travel writers.

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